A prisoner who claims to have developed respiratory failure after contracting the coronavirus while in detention can legally move forward with his Cook County Jail COVID-19 lawsuit.
Prisoner Alleges Negligent Conditions at Jail
Wesley Cullom filed suit against Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart in July 2020. Cullom had been a pretrial detainee at Cook County Jail in April of that year when he became ill following a coronavirus infection. He was transported to Stroger Hospital, where he was reportedly shackled to his bed.
Cullom’s Cook County Jail COVID-19 lawsuit alleges that both Dart and the county were aware of the health risks associated with the coronavirus by January 2020. The suit further claims that Dart and Cook County knew that cleaning materials and personal protective equipment (PPE) were needed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Despite this knowledge, the lawsuit contends that Cook County Jail did not distribute sufficient amounts of cleaning and hygiene products or PPE to prisoners, failed to require social distancing, and neglected to clean and disinfect the holding center frequently enough.
Cook County Jail COVID-19 Lawsuit Asserts Due Process Violation
In a written opinion issued on December 27, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly dismissed the claim that Cullom brought against Dart in his individual capacity regarding the conditions of confinement.
Kennelly ruled that such a claim is barred by qualified immunity, which “shields a government official from liability for damages in the performance of his duties unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person would have known.”
In order to oppose an assertion of qualified immunity, Kennelly argued that a plaintiff needs to point to similar cases or demonstrate that a right was already clearly established, which Cullom failed to do.
Nevertheless, Kennelly ruled that Cullom’s Cook County Jail COVID-19 lawsuit could still move forward against Dart in his official capacity, rejecting the argument that qualified immunity protected him from a due process claim for shackling Cullom.
“Specifically,” Kennelly wrote, “Cullom argues that given the fact that he was struggling with severe symptoms of coronavirus disease and was already in a secure wing of Stroger Hospital under constant observation by at least two armed correctional officers, keeping his leg and arm continuously restrained to his hospital bed for fourteen days was excessive in relation to the purpose supporting shackling generally.”
While Kennelly did not rule on the merits of the allegations in the Cook County Jail COVID-19 lawsuit, he held that Cullom has stated a plausible claim that he was subjected to conditions of confinement that violated his right to due process.
Conditions of Confinement Governed by 14th Amendment
Kennelly also declined to dismiss allegations that Dart did not take sufficient actions to protect the health of prisoners in his official capacity. The judge argued that claims made by pretrial detainees concerning their conditions of confinement are governed by the 14th Amendment.
One requirement that a plaintiff must meet in order to prevail on a 14th Amendment claim is to demonstrate that the defendant acted “purposefully, knowingly, or perhaps even recklessly,” according to the ruling. Kennelly argued that the Cook County Jail COVID-19 suit makes that allegation, with Cullom asserting that Dart “knowingly failed to take reasonable steps to stem the spread of coronavirus within the jail.”
Kennelly further noted that the two sides dispute whether Cullom’s suit meets the other requirement for a 14th Amendment due process claim, which is that a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions were objectively unreasonable.
“An official’s response to a particular condition may be reasonable even if the response fails to avert the harm,” wrote Kennelly. “And the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct must be evaluated based upon the totality of the circumstances and with appropriate deference to jail administrators’ evaluation of safety and security concerns.”
Kennelly stated that Dart maintains that his actions in response to the coronavirus outbreak were objectively reasonable. However, he noted that the problem with this argument is its reliance upon claimed facts not contained in the complaint, while the lawsuit contains detailed allegations to this effect. Therefore, the judge denied a motion by Dart and the county to dismiss the Cook County Jail COVID-19 lawsuit for failure to state such a claim.
Contact a Chicago Coronavirus Lawyer Today
The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted every aspect of our lives. This highly contagious virus can be encountered anywhere, including public spaces, nursing homes, and holding centers. But if you believe you or a loved one have contracted COVID-19 because of somebody else’s negligent actions, you might be eligible to seek legal recourse. To learn more about your options, reach out to the holding center coronavirus attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
With over $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements on behalf of our clients, GWC is one of the premier Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois. Our Chicago personal injury lawyers have the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation needed to get you and your family the justice you deserve.
To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our COVID-19 attorneys, contact GWC today by calling our office at (312) 464-1234 or by clicking here to chat with a representative at any time.